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Riverside teachers suspended for refusing Regents test-grading order

Five Riverside Institute of Technology social studies teachers refused orders to begin grading Regents exams last spring before all of the students had completed the test.

Now those five have been suspended with pay since the beginning of the school year and other teachers are rallying to their defense, saying what the district ordered them to do violates the integrity of the testing process.

Meanwhile, with no end to the dispute in sight, other social studies teachers have been brought in by the district this fall to teach the classes at Riverside, said Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation.

District officials declined to comment, calling it a personnel matter. It was not clear if the Riverside replacements are substitute teachers or instructors brought in from other schools, or what impact the moves are having on other social studies programs across the district.

The problem began in June when the Regents exam was administered.

Apparently, the assistant principal at Riverside felt there was not enough time to get the exams graded before the end of the school day and instructed the teachers – who comprise the entire Social Studies department at the school – to start grading the exams while other students were still taking it, Rumore said.

But the teachers refused on the grounds such actions might compromise the integrity of the Regents exam, Rumore said.

“This isn’t done in any school I know of. You wait till everyone has taken the test so the integrity of the exam is not compromised,” Rumore said.

Marc Bruno, one of the suspended social studies teachers, agreed.

“We don’t grade Regents exams while they’re being administered,” Bruno said.

At the time, more than 100 exams were still outstanding, and only 50 had been turned in, Bruno said.

According to a New York State Education Department spokesman, it is not state policy that teachers have to wait until everyone is done taking the exam before teachers can start grading them.

“The principal is responsible for establishing rating procedures that will ensure reasonable confidence in the accuracy of the scores assigned to the answer papers by individual teachers or by committees of teachers,” Jonathan Burman said by email.

For their refusals to grade the tests as they came in, the social studies teachers were given written reprimands.

“We were written up for insubordination and failure to communicate,” Bruno said.

Later in June, in an effort to resolve the problem, the teachers met with the Riverside principal and district administrators, Rumore said. The teachers said they felt the written reprimands were unfair.

By the end of the meeting, representatives from the school district “stormed out” of the room, and the five teachers were placed on administrative leave effective Sept. 3, the first day of school, Rumore said.

There has been no date set yet for the teachers’ return, Rumore said.

Rumore also alleged that the school’s director of the Social Studies Department took the Regents exams out of the building to have them corrected, which was in violation of New York State regulations and may have invalidated the scores.

A BTF solidarity rally in support of the five Riverside teachers was held Tuesday on the steps of the school at 51 Ontario St. Another rally is planned for 5 p.m. Oct. 14 before the start of the Buffalo School Board meeting.